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Hawaii-Alaska sisterhood

Marketplace Staff Sep 20, 2006
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BOB MOON: Today, the state of Alaska will announce the size of checks that almost all Alaskans will receive from the state’s permanent fund. That’s the pool of royalty payments Alaska collects from mineral sales, especially oil. In the past five years, the payouts have totaled anywhere from $845 to $1,800. Weld Royal reports from Juneau that the extra pocket money helps fuel a unique relationship between Alaska and that other state cut off from the contiguous United States: Hawaii.


WELD ROYAL: September brings autumn to Juneau. The rain falls heavy, darkness starts to fill daylight hours, birds and the last cruise ships are departing.

September’s also when locals start planning their annual Hawaii sojourns. Ship captain Larry Dupler co-founded Orca Enterprises, a whale watching venture whose busy season is winding down.

It’s not just his customers that are heading to Hawaii, in early fall whales start migrating there, too. He organizes his trip to the Aloha state around pregnant humpbacks.

LARRY DUPLER:“Maui is one of the most popular areas for the mothers to go have their calves, so calving usually in January.”

For 20 years Shannon Sweeney called Hawaii home. Now she operates a travel agency in Juneau. She makes plans for about 50 people to go to Hawaii every year and says the Permanent Fund dividend starts people thinking about their vacation.

Almost 40,000 Alaskans went to Hawaii last year. Sweeney says both states used to be suspicious of outsiders, but that’s changed.

SHANNON SWEENEY:“We used to be very tight about letting other people coming into our areas and now we realize it’s the biggest part of our economy up here now.”

Horizon Lines is one of the largest ocean shippers serving both states. Its boats bring plywood, hammers and TV sets to Alaska and to Honolulu. The company’s annual Alaska boom slows in September as tourists and residents leave, and construction ebbs. That slowdown coincides with Horizon’s busiest quarter for Hawaii as tourists hurry back.

Brian Taylor is Horizon’s senior vice president for sales and marketing. He says business to and from both states is strong, driven by goods for military bases and big box stores.

BRIAN TAYLOR:“With the arrival of Wal-Mart and Costco and Lowes we have obviously seen a bit of a change in the way our retail customers are shipping as well.”

None of those commodities come cheap. The shipper charges its Alaskan customers an 18 and a half percent fuel surcharge. Hawaiians pay 13 percent extra.

Last March Horizon said it would charter five new ships and that means more stops for Hawaii and Alaska where consumers will soon have more money for shopping.

In Juneau, I’m Weld Royal for Marketplace.

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